Advertisers are always looking for a new, more engaged audience.
And they've found one in the online world of social gaming, where more ads are becoming embedded in the game itself.
On Facebook, 97 million users play the free game CityVille. Players start with an empty plot of land and build a city on it. Then, they invite Facebook friends to join in the fun of collecting rent and building businesses, as well as growing and harvesting crops.
Booming Ad Revenue
Paul Verna analyzes the business of social games for eMarketer. He says social game publishers take in most of their revenue — 60 percent — from the sale of virtual goods: crops, fish food and other miscellaneous items.
While overall revenue is soaring, he says, that percentage won't change much for the next couple of years. But he predicts in-game ad revenue will more than double between 2010 and 2012.
He says a wide range of companies have advertised in social games, including fast food, beverage, financial services and entertainment companies.
Alex Rampell, the CEO of TrialPay, which matches advertisers with social game companies, says that list goes on and on because the social game world is so diverse.
Some of the most popular games include CityVille, FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker, Pet Society, Mafia Wars and Car Town.
Rampell says basically anything you want to advertise will work with the theme of a social game that's out there.
"Most people can't stand advertising," he says. "They want to skip it. Social gaming — by providing more crops or more fish or more virtual poker chips for the poker game — it encourages people to interact with advertisers, and they do take notice."
Farmers Discovers FarmVille
Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group, the No. 3 home and auto insurance company in the U.S., has been around since 1928. About two years ago, the company started an e-business department. Marc Zeitlin, the vice president of e-business, says the company now has a "kick-ass farm."
He had never played FarmVille before deciding it could be a great marketing tool for an insurance company not known for hipness. Now he's addicted.
"It's very hard on a marriage and other relationships," he says. "But I was very happy to start playing it because of the excitement of putting the Farmer's airship into the game."
On the upper left of Zeitlin's computer screen is a cartoon version of an airship with the Farmers logo on it. He negotiated a deal with Zynga, the company that created FarmVille, to make the virtual airship available in the game free for players for 10 days. Players who downloaded the airship were rewarded with a brief respite from virtual farming.
Zeitlin says more than 5 million users downloaded the airship, and in that time, Farmers' Facebook fan page went from a handful of fans to more than 120,000.
It's an example of real corporate money that was well spent in the virtual business world.